from old photographs, it didn’t look like much, but back in 1923 a hybrid machine
invented in San
Angelo generated a lot of attention in the Texas telephone industry.|
With the discovery of oil in West Texas,
demand for telephone service shot as high as any gusher. New towns popped up in
the middle of nowhere, but lines strung between poles could provide these new
communities with communication to all the existing “somewheres.”
Angelo Telephone Company, later absorbed by General Telephone (Verizon today),
stayed busy extending service in its part of the state, which lay on the eastern
edge of the fantastic oil fields in or around the Permian Basin. To help meet
this demand, a group of pioneer telephone men developed a vehicle to speed up
the process of setting poles and pulling cable.
Led by chief engineer
James Clay (a great uncle of mine), the men stripped down a Baby Grand Chevrolet
and installed at its rear a drilling derrick that could be lowered and raised
by the driver. The telephone men also added assorted winches and a differential
cannibalized from another vehicle, creating the most sophisticated telephone company
line vehicle in the state at the time.
They nicknamed the truck “Old Cap,”
but the little that’s been written about it does not reveal what’s behind the
name, though “Cap” is usually short for “captain.”
The innovative line
truck had long since gone to the junk yard by the time I became a telephone user
in the 1950s. But reading about “Old Cap” got me thinking how much the telephone
industry has changed in the lifetime of my fellow 79 million Baby Boomers.
So, for those knowing no form of electronic voice communication other than cell
phones or Skype, a brief look at the not-so-distant past:
Telephones were heavy, black-plastic instruments attached to a fairly short wire
inside your house. To call someone, you picked up the “receiver” (even though
it also had a mouthpiece), inserted a finger into the appropriate hole on the
dial, and rotated the dial. You did this once for each of a phone number’s seven
telephone number was preceded by two letters, as in GL3-8867, through the 1960s.
True seven-digit numbers did not come along until the 1970s. Touch-tone
dialing did not become universal in Texas until the late 1970s.When
away from home, you needed to make sure you had some change in case you needed
to use a payphone, which cost 10 cents. These public phones resided in glass booths
with folding doors that sheltered you from wind and rain.Calling
someone “long distance,” which took the assistance of an operator before the advent
of area codes and direct distance dialing in the 1960s, used to be a big deal.
Saavy consumers knew to wait until the weekend, when the rates ran lowest, for
calls to out-of-town family and friends. One
way to get around this cost was to call someone “collect.” Say you wanted to make
sure a loved one made it home OK. By pre-arrangement, that person called you collect
when they got in and you refused to “accept charges.” But you knew your family
member had arrived home safely.
In the 1960s, some businesses began paying a flat fee for one phone line over
which long distance calls could be placed “free” at any time. These were called
WATS (for Wide Area Telephone Service) lines. Company owners generally forbid
personal calls, but that stopped only the most honest employees.
If you needed a number it probably was in your phone book, that annual phone company
publication that included both residential and business listings. If not, all
you had to do was dial “0” to reach an operator who would courteously connect
you to “Information,” an operator who with equal courteously would give you the
number. (Later, phone companies started charging for this service.)
If you had phone trouble, all you had to do was call the operator and request
that a repairman be dispatched to your house. Telephone installation or repair
If the party you were trying to call was on the phone, you got a busy signal.
“Call waiting” did not become available until the 1980s. But if you really needed
to get through, you could call the operator and she (back then there were no male
operators) would get on the line to see if a conversation was in progress. She
could even announce an emergency call. Becoming
available in the 1980s, the first devices remotely similar to today’s cell phones
were “cordless” phones. These worked only inside your house, but sometimes you
could get a signal in your yard. Finally,
if you needed to call the police, fire department or ambulance service you had
better know the right seven-digit phone number or have it pasted prominently near
the phone. The only other option was to dial “0” and say with dramatic flourish,
“Operator, get me the police.” Universal 9-1-1- service lay years in the future,
not to mention 2-1-1, 3-1-1, 4-1-1 and texting.
Cox - "Texas Tales" May
19, 2011 column
Books by Mike Cox - Order Now|